It’s not often that your editor is at odds with dear readers. But there are times…
After all, if his views were completely in sync with popular opinion, there would be no reason for him to write (or think) at all.
And if he were to bring his views into line with the mainstream media, there would be no reason for you to read his daily ramblings.
Yet, from time to time, readers advise us to censor our own thoughts, for commercial reasons. ‘If you keep criticising Donald Trump,’ for instance, ‘you will lose all your readers.’
We remind them of our campaign slogan as we considered — briefly and mischievously — a political career: ‘Too rich to steal; too dumb to lie.’
We quickly abandoned the idea of running for mayor of Baltimore when we realised that to most denizens of the city, being unable to steal or lie would be seen as two big handicaps and make us unelectable.
Also, being the mayor of Baltimore is usually a prelude to a prison sentence, which we’ve always wanted to avoid.
Returning to our unwelcome reflections, in the 22 years we’ve been writing this Diary (previously called The Daily Reckoning), our dear readers have turned against us thrice.
First, we warned that the dotcom bubble would pop and that the idea that ‘information’ would make us rich was an illusion. They didn’t want to hear that.
Then when the US invaded Iraq, again, we foresaw disaster. The Bush Administration advertised a cost of the invasion of $50–60 billion. We guessed it would end up at $1 trillion.
And we had a hunch that the gods of war would go over to the other side. They don’t like big countries that invade small ones for no apparent reason.
Readers sided overwhelmingly with the administration. The war would be a cakewalk. It would teach those towelheads a lesson, they said. And we must be some kind of traitor to question it.
But as the war dragged on, the costs rose to a now estimated $6 or $7 trillion. Nothing much was accomplished, except that the whole Mideast was left more or less in shambles…
And many of the people behind the war, after having been briefly discredited, are back in power in the Biden administration.
Our next contretemps with dear readers came when Donald Trump ran for president.
At first, we didn’t know what to think. Brash…bombastic…Mr Trump sounded stupid. But was that just an act? We didn’t know.
Hugging the flag, grabbing p*ssy, building a wall — he was refreshingly ‘authentic’, in an oafish kinda way.
But then, as his administration took shape, we became more critical.
Trade wars were always a waste of time. Lowering interest rates — as he bullied the Federal Reserve to do — would lead to even more debt. Increasing the Pentagon budget was the last thing we needed to do.
The tax cut was a fraud; without a cut in federal spending, it merely shifted the burden of government into the future. Higher deficits, more spending, time-wasting distractions…foolish squabbles…
Hardly a day went by that the Trump Team didn’t do something moronic.
Readers didn’t appreciate our remarks. We opened our mail with dread. Almost every day for four years, readers wrote to proclaim their disgust and disappointment.
We ‘didn’t understand’ they said. We were ‘out of touch’. We were ‘unpatriotic’, ‘leftist’ or just plain ‘stupid’.
‘He’s better than the alternative,’ they said.
As to that last comment, they were probably right.
Now, we have the alternative in the White House. And even though Mr Trump was a shameless big spender, Mr Biden may turn out to be an even bigger spender…and even more shameless.
Of course, that is Mr Trump’s fault, too. Had he shown just a little bit of dignity, grace, or intelligence, the country never would have elected Joe Biden, who is easily one of the weakest candidates ever to mount the national stage.
And had The Donald not destroyed the residual conservatism of the Republican Party, it might still perform its traditional role — offering some real, principled, and sensible resistance to the Biden bunch…
…rather than acting like Tweedledees, playing get along, go along with the Tweedledums of the Democratic Party.
Maybe we were right about Mr Trump. Maybe we were wrong. Who knows?
But even now, Mr Trump’s defenders are still many…and still upset with us.
The proximate cause of their latest ire was our report on GDP growth rates.
Presidents have very little influence over growth rates. Whatever they do, it tends to show up in future growth rates, not their own.
And since what they do is mostly harmful to growth — regulation, borrowing, printing — growth rates tend to decline over time, as they have during the entire 21st century. The low 2016–20 growth rate, therefore, was more a product of Bush and Obama than Trump.
But many people think Mr Trump was some kind of exception. He was not. In fact, the average growth rate during his four years, we reported, was the ‘lowest since the Great Depression’.
From Tim L came this reply:
‘Bill, of the many e-mail messages I receive, I almost always take time to read yours. You are a very good thinker and writer. Thanks.
‘On the other hand, I hope you realize that you have a bias against Trump, a bias that detracts from the quality of your writing. While I acknowledge that Trump is far from perfect, there is a reason — actually, quite a few reasons — that so many people appreciate him. You do us a disservice by glossing over those reasons (assuming you are aware of them).
‘I am prodded to write, specifically, because of your statement, “In Trump’s term, the growth rate was only 1.25% — the lowest since the Great Depression.” Yes, of course. But it would not be true without the economic collapse related to COVID-19, and the media-stimulated panic, not to mention the unilateral closing of so many businesses, especially smaller businesses. (I recognize that Trump was caught totally flat-footed by the virus and the general hysteria in response to it.)
‘Please, in other words, compare Trump’s four years with other presidents whose terms included similar pandemic panic, and similarly stupid responses to it. Or, at least, please acknowledge that 2020 is without precedent. Thanks, Tim.’
And here’s another comment, this time from John W:
‘I used to find your submissions both informative and entertaining. But now, I am compelled to agree with Tim L. that they are just biased poppycock. The Trump Team’s performance, economically speaking, was nothing short of outstanding. And your attempt to denigrate this great performance prior to 3/2020 deserves critical review, even scorn. Your humor is fine, but your arrogance and hypocrisy are not becoming.’
And here’s a helpful suggestion from Robert S:
‘As a nation, we despise performance-enhancing drugs, especially in our athletes. However, when politicians goose our economy with fake currency, we worship them. To answer Tim’s accusation of deceptive math, can you not publish a first-three-year comparison of Trump versus other recent presidential regimes’ economic results to negate Tim’s COVID-19 distortion claim?’
Yes, we can!
We can take out 2020, which included the COVID-19 hysteria for which, allegedly, the president of the US cannot be held to blame.
Or can he?
We remind readers that it was not the virus itself, but government policies — shutdowns and lockouts — that did the economic damage. And where does that buck stop?
Wasn’t it Donald Trump who called for a ‘State of Emergency’ in early 2020? And wasn’t it his own employees — members of the executive branch of which he was the indisputable head, Doctors Fauci and Birx — members of the executive branch of which he was the who created a panic…in which people began to think the coronavirus was like the plague?
Nevertheless, in deference to our dear readers, we will overlook the disaster of 2020, and just judge The Donald on the first three glorious years of his reign.
Unbidden, our own intrepid researcher, Sean Stanton, had already studied the issue. This is what he discovered (figures come from David Stockman’s excellent Contra Corner).
Taking only the first three years…and the first quarter of 2020 (before the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed) for Mr Trump…here is the comparison:
Even taking out the COVID-19 Panic, Trump’s GDP growth rate was the worst in more than 50 years.
Good? Bad? You decide.
But no miracle worker.
For The Rum Rebellion